I get this question a lot from clients, other photographers, friends, parents, etc. Who owns the copyright?
And it’s a very touchy subject–because a lot of times, clients think that it’s a studio’s policy to not release a copyright or to retain it. In actuality–it’s not our choice. It’s the law…it’s just the way it is.
My understanding of the laws (which I’ll admit, even for ALL the research I’ve done, I still learn something new everyday) is that the person who creates the art, be it painter, sketch artist or photographer, owns the copyright. In copyright terms, it doesn’t matter that the photograph is of you–it matters that I am the one who took the photograph.
And it doesn’t quite work as easy as “releasing the copyright” to another person. The only time I’ve ever heard of that is in a work for hire situation in which case the pay is very, very high. However, there is an option to allow printing rights on images–this is what most photographers do. But it’s still not the same as releasing a copyright. With this license, you have the ability to print your own images, however you could not turn around and sell that image to Coca-Cola and make a profit off of the photographer’s work.
For this reason, be cautious of the photographer who is easily willing to “release the copyright” of all their images to you. It’s likely that if they’re doing this for little or no money, they probably don’t understand the business that they’re in very well. When I just began my business, I did allow printing rights for all the images, but I’ve quickly learned that you can’t earn a living that way. Like I said, I’ve been doing this for years and there’s still a lot that I don’t understand. I even WORKED in a licensing department at both a publishing house and a television studio and I still don’t have as firm a grasp as I’d like on copyright. It’s such a complicated system.
So, to sum up:
1) Copyright belongs to the photographer. The “release” of said copyright is not a single studio’s or photographer’s choice–it’s simply the law.
2) This copyright allows the photographer to use any and all images taken to be used on their websites and in advertising (but not necessarily sold, ie to stock agencies)
If I’m incorrect on any of these points, let me know! I’m constantly trying to learn and hopefully this helps us all have a clearer idea of the laws.